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History of the Air Jordan 11

The Air Jordan 11 is widely regarded as one of the most important basketball shoes ever made. From its unexpected debut to its immortality in retro life, the 11th installment from Michael Jordan’s famed signature sneaker line is instantly recognizable to fans of footwear from all eras in both hemispheres.

So, why is the Air Jordan 11 such a monumental moment in sneaker culture, and how does it remain relevant years after its arrival? Keep reading for the history of the Air Jordan 11.

Conception

Following his third straight NBA championship and the tragic murder of his father, the greatest basketball player of all time walked away from the game before the start of the 1993-94 season. On top of the game while carrying the weight of the world, Jordan’s retirement shocked sports fans and altered plans for Nike.

Months ahead of the release of the Air Jordan 9, the man they called MJ was said to be retired from basketball, breaking into the game of baseball as an homage to his late father. The Air Jordan 9 released to lukewarm fanfare at this time, worn in cleated form by Jordan on the minor league diamond but devoid of his hardwood endorsement that previously propelled sales.

The following fall, Jordan remained removed from basketball with the Air Jordan 10 set to release as a 10th anniversary monument to his signature series and a tribute to his numerous accolades. Executives around the Nike offices were ready to move on from the cash cow that was the Air Jordan line, believing the GOAT was done with hoops and convinced that his shoes couldn’t sell without his wear on the court.

Within the walls of Nike HQ, few held faith that Jordan would ever return to the game of basketball. The short list was headlined by Tinker Hatfield, the designer tasked with creating the baller’s on-court shoe since the Air Jordan 3 arrived in 1988. Over the years of their working relationship, Hatfield began to intimately understand what drove MJ and just how deep his competitive nature was. Because of this, he secretly drafted a sneaker dubbed the Jordan Beyond at his home after office hours.

Debut

Months later in March of 1995, Hatfield’s suspicion of a comeback proved true. With pro baseball on strike and Jordan thus without elite competition and challenge, the three-time champion returned to the Chicago Bulls by releasing a simple statement reading, “I’m Back.”

That spring, Jordan would work off the rust of one and a half seasons away from the NBA game, rocking the Air Jordan 10 in regular season competition and into the playoffs. By the time the Bulls were ready to take on the young Orlando Magic, the savvy veteran was ready to debut new shoes. To the surprise of Hatfield, Jordan went rogue and rocked a prototype sample of the secret Jordan Beyond, soon known as the Air Jordan 11, on national television.

Fans gasped in awe as Michael Jordan competed against Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal in never-before-seen patent leather sneakers. The NBA was also in shock as the white/black-concord colorway worn by Jordan was against the league’s playoff dress code. Because of this, MJ was fined for playing in white-based sneakers, paralleling his “Banned” beginnings as a brash rookie.

By the end of the series, the Magic had beaten the Bulls, sending Jordan home early to much dismay. Over the course of the competition, MJ switched back to his normal number of 23 and also unveiled his upcoming sneakers in black. The public would have to wait months for pairs to release, with Jordan hitting the gym aside trainer Tim Grover all summer, hell-bent on being better than ever before.

1995-96 Season

Wearing the Air Jordan 11 all summer while training with Grover and filming the movie “Space Jam,” MJ was focused on revenge — and he got it.

Led by Jordan in the “Concord” colorway of his infamous Air Jordan 11, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls would go 72-10 — a league record at that time. At the NBA All-Star Game, he’d debut the “Columbia” colorway, followed by another title run taking place in a black and red “Playoff” pair.

From the fall of 1995 into the heat of 1996, the Air Jordan 11 released at retail to rabid sellouts. Due to Jordan’s impeccable play, the model’s flashy design and the wait for pairs to hit stores, the shoes could not be kept on shelves. Instantly, the Air Jordan 11 was a status symbol in culture, worn by the best to ever do it and admired by fans everywhere.

Retro Revival

After only four years away from circulation, the Air Jordan 11 returned to retail in retro life. In the year 2000, the Air Jordan 11 re-released in the famed “Concord” colorway, while also rolling out the black-based “Space Jam” style for the first time ever. Fans went absolutely nuts for the Air Jordan 11 retro, igniting the momentum for archival Air Jordans in general.

Over the course of the 2000s, the Air Jordan 11 remained illustrious among sneakerheads and in limited production from Jordan Brand. Original makeups such as the “Columbia” and “Playoff” pairs returned while new takes like the “Cool Gray” and “Defining Moments” excited collectors. Additionally, the patent leather proper hit stores in low top form, a rarity once only reserved for Jordan himself. This revised cut opened the lane for the Air Jordan 11 to further appeal to women, while also having greater wearability in warmer months.

The Air Jordan 11 Legacy Continues

Even in the 2020s, two and a half decades after it debuted, the Air Jordan 11 is an unrivaled icon in sneaker culture. Every year, the Air Jordan 11 releases in various colorways that are consumed by the masses and worn by fans of all ages. Introduced as a progressive performance basketball shoe and spreading its wings as a lifestyle staple, the Air Jordan 11 has transcended time and crossed over to new categories, cementing its status as one of the most iconic sneakers ever made.

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